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(Are Family and Friends Expendable?)

By Rick "Cowboy" Jensen

Rick "Cowboy" Jensen was a finalist in the World Series of Blackjack 2005. He has been operating his own casino company since 1985 and started playing blackjack tournaments in August of 1985. In 2000 he started his own tournament company and is currently planning the Blackjack Tournament Cruise in October. Go to for more details on the cruise and the four major tournaments on board.

Iíve been going to Las Vegas since 1985. Thatís also when I played my first blackjack tournament and became the tournament junkie I am today. All kidding aside, even with my present tournament success (e.g. finalist in the World Series of Blackjack) I still consider myself a recreational player that has a real life, a loving wife, and a cool job that I operate out of my house.


When I first started playing blackjack, I would travel to Vegas only once a year for 7 to 10 days at a time to play all the different tournaments that was scheduled more or less consecutively over a week or so. (By contrast, I have been out to Vegas alone 10 times so far this year and Iím going back next week). I used to call it the "Stardust Week" and it included about five tournaments including some mini events. The main tournaments were the Stardust, Riviera, and New Frontier. Sometimes the Sunset Station, Imperial Palace, or Excalibur would host an event around the same time and then the Sunset, Silverton, and Boulder Station all hosted their weekly events as well.


Now my wife isnít a gambler (actually she hates it), but she always came with me during the early years and I always made time to take her to shows and shopping and anything else she might enjoy. I guess she is like all of yaíll spouses, happy when we win but lets you know about what "we" could have done with the money when we loseÖLOL.


Well thatís okay with me because even with everything I have won over the years, nothing means more to me then she does. I have been very fortunate to have a life besides playing in casino tournaments and it is all due to her. You can stop me anytime at a casino and Iíll have a photo of my wife with me (just ask and Iíll show you).


However, I have seen lots of players who feel the same way I do but unfortunately, once theyíre on the tables they forget all about family and friends. They lose more then they can afford and some tragically lose everything. I have seen marriages break up so many times due to husbands and wifeís going crazy when they go to Vegas. Iím not even talking about cheating on each other, but about getting gold fever on the tables. I have seen players max out every credit card they have trying to win, only to go back home in financial debt.


They folks get so wrapped up in trying to win that golden ring that they end up losing everything that was really important in their life. What is really sad is that enough is never enough for most of them. For example, Iíve have seen players with $40,000 per year jobs get ahead tens of thousands of dollars gambling only to blow it all back plus more trying to win enough to retire on. That is really sad.


I know several players today who borrowed money and havenít paid back debts that they promised to pay back by now. Then the fun begins when they start avoiding you and after months or years go by, they may show up for an event and when asked about the money, they may say something like, "didnít I pay you back?" or my favorite, "I donít have it." (Although they had money to fly out to Vegas or wherever and had money for the tournament entry fee and gambling money).


Then you have those players who want to partner up on a 10% (or so) split. In general, most players have no problem paying their partner(s) if they win money in a tournament, but unfortunately there are some players that start looking for a way out of paying up.

The best rule of thumb for percentage split is to go straight 10% and donít worry about the tip, the taxes, or the number of times you re-bought back in. Just pay the player(s) 10%. If that is more then you want to give up, than only go 5%, but for Gods sake pay them what you agree upon or youíll get a bad reputation fast.


Hereís an example of what Iím talking about. I am still collecting on a $500 loan from five years ago (to a casino employee) who has only paid me back $325 to date, but I know the situation and they give me a little something almost every time I see them. I have no problem with that because I know it was going to be a long-term payback and at least they stay in contact with me.


Tournaments are great when youíre winning, but unlike poker, it is not something to make a living at. I want to shake players hard when they tell me their moving out to Vegas to play in all the tournaments. First of all there is too much of a luck factor involved in tournaments to be a constant winner. Consistently advancing is possible in the early rounds, but until those rounds start paying, I am not for giving up my regular day job.


I have screwed up before, most all of us have at some time or another, including over extended ourselves. For example, a few years back I miss counted some entry fees in a tournament I was running and then on top of that forgot to take out the rental fee for an event I was hosting. Earlier in the day I had given my wife some money to take with her on her trip home, money that I thought was my winnings. However, when it was time for me to pay the prize money out I was $1,200 short for 1st place money (only had $10,800 of the $12,000 I owed). Thank goodness a good friend of mine won. He ended up giving me back $1,800 so I would have some money to pay the winners the last two days. I eventually just paid him $3,000 when I got back home, plus because of his understanding, I purchased a flight for him to attend another tournament. He balked at my generosity but I insisted because I wanted him to know how much it meant to me what he had done.


I have a story about another good guy of blackjack, Ken Smith, of and Ken and his brother qualified for this yearís finals of the Las Vegas Hiltonís Million Dollar Blackjack tournament where one lucky player out of 200 would win a million bucks. Just days before they were scheduled to leave for Vegas their dad had to have emergency bypass surgery. This tournament is the largest of all the blackjack tournaments and because Ken has two of the top blackjack sites online, everyone was expecting him and his brother to be there. But once his father went to the hospital they did the right thing and they both canceled their flight, hotel, and playing spots in the tournament to be by their fatherís side. These are two gentlemen that have their priorities straight in life.


You are probably wondering why Iím writing about this. Itís because on a recent casino trip, I found myself seated alone at a buffet looking across at an empty booth and thinking about married friends that had just informed me they were splitting up and about another player telling me they will be missing their sonís graduation to play in this tournament (would you do that?). Thatís when I started wondering where I would be without my wife, and how empty my life would be without her. I thank God every morning for the life I have been given including this mourning when my wife backed her car into my new pickup truck (and she even yelled at me for parking behind her (go figure) so itís got to be loveÖLOL).


I guess it comes down to what is most important to folks and for me itís no choice - Iíll take my family and friends over the casinos and tournaments any day. So next time you listen to one of us talking about a big win or going out to the casinos for a big tournament, donít feel bad, just look around the room at you spouse and kids and know your better off then most of the players out there and ahead of 97% of them by not being out the airfare and entry fees.

Here are the rules I try and follow when I go and play in tournaments.

1)      I only go to a specific casino when they are offering a tournament.

2)      I only take with me what I am comfortable with should the worse happen and I lose it all.

3)      I try and pre-pay all entry feeís and airline before travel.

4)      I like to pay all household bills and keep them current before travel.

5)      I try to avoid borrowing money, but if you must, make sure you pay it back ASAP.

6)      I never loan money if you canít afford to lose it.

7)      I keep a clear mind and focus on what Iím there to do.

8)      I donít put myself in temptations way, for anything.

9)      I put in the time and average bet when playing in a VIP event, but donít go crazy.

10)  I take my laptop with me so I can get some work done while on the road. It also keeps me out of the casinos for awhile (ditto with watching a movie).

11)  When I am hosting any events I keep my money separate from my entry fees.

Life is short, so be smart and keep your priorities straight.

Rick "Cowboy" Jensen

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